Pure Science and Maths

Eligibility and Elimination in Education

Oxford Dictionary defines Education as the process of receiving or giving systematic instruction, especially at a school or university. Of course, schools and colleges are centers for education but it never stops there! People can be educated without going to either of them but in such cases, the probability is really low (so please don’t risk that). In the times that we are living in, the more institutions you attend, the more educated you are considered. Hence, we see many engineers pursuing their M.B.A. (many of then vaguely know why?) and many science graduates doing their doctorate (because engineers have taken up their jobs). In other words, we are trying to be more and more eligible for a high-paying job by continuously escaping every elimination process on the way.

Coming back to schools, I think initial years are filled with fun and learn. Grading looks great at pre-primary and acceptable at primary level. Soon the competitive demon enters the system and we start comparing. In one of the parents-teachers meets, a Grade 1 parent asked me if his child stood first in the class. Even after knowing that the child has received the highest grade A*, the curiosity exists. This type of attitude gives birth to the trend of ranking and who doesn’t want to come first? The rat race begins. I personally endorse the grading system over the ranking system of assessment. Isn’t it good to compete with oneself or to improve your own standards than defeating your own friends?

This reminds me of the famous story of ‘The Bear and The Two Friends‘. It is about two friends walking through the forest and suddenly they see the bear approaching them. One of the friends climbed a nearby tree to save his own life; leaving the other on his own. The other one, who did not know how to climb, lays down on the ground breathless, pretending to be a dead man. For a moment think about the same story by replacing the ‘bear’ with ‘exams’ and imagine the situation of the other friend… (Are you feeling sad for him?). By the way, there is a new version of the above story which is even sadder. Check out the image:

Image Courtesy – http://www.trainerize.me

Looks like the ‘Red Ocean Strategy’ being introduced in education, right from the early age. The competitive environment (the bear) is forcing learners to think about themselves alone, not allowing them to see a bigger picture. I need to safeguard myself, I need to fulfill all eligibility criteria and escape elimination by hook or by crook (or by friend’s answer book).

Recently, I heard Prof. V. Ramgopal Rao, the Director of IIT, Delhi, speak about the famous entrance test IIT-JEE. He was narrating the other side of the story. He accepted the fact that the JEE exams are brain crackers. Actually, even the professors at IIT find it difficult to set new and tough question each time. The whole country dreams to study at IIT but in reality, there are only ten thousand seats available at IIT across India. So the entrance exams are not meant to test individual knowledge with respect to a standard but unfortunately they act as eliminators. So even after fulfilling the eligibility criteria, the students are being eliminated. A crude way of telling ‘NO‘ to a learner because there is a shortage of seats.  Instead of creating more opportunities we are busy raising the bar too high.

According to OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development), the highest performing education systems are those that combine equity with quality. They give all children opportunities for a good quality education. And the good news is that there are many such universities around the globe. International boards have entered India, making our students more eligible to the foreign universities than before. By the time we create more in-house opportunities, our students can travel the world for their higher education.

Quiz Time – Currently we have a lot of sports events scheduled in our country. So I thought of making a sports quiz this time. Please go to https://join.quizizz.com and enter the respective code:

  1. Sports around the world – 155312
  2. Sports Personalities Of India – 117102




I Want to be a Scientist but How?

One day, I shall invent something really cool, something that will change the world for better. Just like any other child who loves science, I had ideas like making a flying car or a cape that will make me invisible or a gadget that can take me to the future or the past. When I was a kid, I too dreamt of becoming a scientist. But eventually, I was discouraged by grown-ups around me they said it’s too difficult and unworthy. They wanted me to just study the textbook content and complete my assignments on time. And as I grew older, according to them I became more realistic, more normal. Eventually, I was convinced enough to pursue Engineering in Computer Science to get a high-paying job.

Abdullah Patel

One of my students’ letter for me!

I think it’s a typical narrative that may resonate with most of us; but today, the concern is about the current batch of school-going children. This came back to me when I received a small card from one of my students (You can see the green card in the post). How honest and innocent are kids? It was a surprise for me to know that they think of me as a scientist! And now they expect me to tell them ‘How to become a scientist‘!

First things first, I told them “I am not a scientist but yes, I can help you to become one because I am your teacher”. I want them to have high aspirations in life, not just settle for mediocrity. I want to see them become Vyomanaut (Indian astronauts) and not just pilots, a scientists not just an engineer. I think their high potential deserves much more motivation and guidance from us. Our country needs more scientist. Check the info-graphics below:

Infographic of Workforce of Researchers | UNESCO

Coming back to us as grown-ups of these children, let us get clear from the common misperception of becoming a scientist:


A Stereotyped Scientist via Getty Images

On the side is a stereotyped image of a scientist that picturizes them as disconnected humans on the planet, can’t enjoy life, mad at their work, always serious and gray-haired individuals holding a flask or a test-tube filled with colourful chemicals which are about to explode anytime…BANG!

Scientists, in reality, are children fascinated by science who after completing their school education do their bachelor’s and master’s degree in the subject of their interests. They further go on to do research by applying for a doctoral program (Ph.D.) in a university. Basically, there is no degree called ‘scientist’ but a designation one achieves.

That was all about formal degrees and education, this question still remains unanswered. What will they invent, today? Most of us including me (for years) believed that we as humans have invented everything. Famous scientists like Einstein and Newton has invented or discovered almost everything. There is no further scope for anyone else. Until I started reading biographies of scientists – starting from Dmitri Mendeleev to Issac Newton to Dr. A.P.J. Abdulkalam; and the most recent was Crick and Watson, yes the duo who discovered the double helix structure of DNA. Actually, the writer at pennations.com gifted me this interesting book, ‘They Changed the World’. The book beautifully connects the life of different scientist living in the same era and talks about their real life challenges from personal to professional. A good read for our little aspiring scientists.

book title campfire

One of the Books on Biographies of Scientists | Buy here: http://amzn.in/cRcQTAu

Coming back to the question, after reading the biographies, I realized the world has always been the same. All the great personalities began by reading and working on existing ideas and projects. Even in their times, it was assumed that everything has been invented; because you don’t miss something which doesn’t exist yet. So, believe me, there are things yet to be discovered or invented and the ones who are going to do that are now in our schools. As humans, we have always chased the impossible – right from caves, we stepped on to the moon, now on Mars and the entire universe is still waiting for us.

A special quiz for you, go to join.quizizz.com and enter the code – 741207 and enjoy the quiz. O Budding Scientists of the World, know your role models well!

Check out our new website – puresciencemaths.com

A Lot More Than The Movie Character – Phunsukh Wangdu

img-20170818-wa0023.jpgHi, everyone! Last week, I had an opportunity to meet Sonam Wangchuk. Yes, you got it right, our perception of the famous character from the movie 3 Idiots (alias – Phunsukh Wangdu). It was in Mumbai at the UGC conference. He spoke roughly less than an hour but it was truly inspirational. I would like to share highlights from his session.

  1. Teach what is relevant – We all have studied A for Apple and B for Ball. If I ask you to name objects for every letter in the English alphabet, most likely, we all will name the same objects. Isn’t it? C for Cat and D for Dog is fine but what about O for Ox. Can’t we say O for Onion because we never say Ox in India, rather we refer it as Bullock? Some of the interesting examples he gave were:  F for Fan and S for Ship. In Ladakh, people don’t need fans. I mean who would need a fan at the freezing point and one just cannot imagine ship on the Himalayas. Small children from Ladakh cannot be forced to think similar to the children in the UK. It’s time to revisit our textbooks and upgrade with more relevant contents.
  2. Think globally, act locally – Ask the people of Ladakh for an example and they will tell you only this name ‘Sonam Wangchuk’. A local boy who was born in a tiny village of 5 households; studied in different parts of the world; someone who then had alluring opportunities to work away from his mother land but he didn’t. He had belief in the local people, he saw potential in them and decided to work with them. In his session, he mentioned a reason for only 5% success in exams in the region by elaborating about a student who was forced to memorize the spelling of ‘root’, whereas, the child knew how to grow real plans on the field. The regional education system needed a makeover. Wangchuk played an important role in the launch of Operation – New Hope, a triangular collaboration of government, village communities and the civil society to bring reforms in the government school systems. Now the success percentage has gone up to 75%. We all would have heard many global thinkers speaking on education, they may have excellent fluency and lucrative theories (sometimes too idealistic) but very few actually made any impact locally. It is very important to think of ourselves as global citizens and understand the world view yet we must not forget to act locally.


    Diagrammatic Representation of ‘Operation – New Hope’

  3. Survival of the fittest, are we making our children fit to survive? Wangchuk had very powerful words to express this idea, he said: “We are disabling our children at school”. He further went on to ask the educators a sparking question, “Can our students survive for a day anywhere on the planet?” He made everyone present at the conference reflect on this, ‘Are we making our students future ready or just job ready?’. In 1988, he laid the foundation of the Students’ Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh (SECMOL). The campus runs completely on solar energy. Even in winters when the temperature falls to -25 degrees, his students know how to survive without using any fossil fuel! Ah yes, not to forget to mention about his invention of the Ice Stupa which helps the local farmers during spring.


Ice Stupas

Courtesy: chaprama(dot)com


I would like to end my article with something that touched my heart. What he said was not particularly related to schools or science/mathematics but the life as a whole; and I am paraphrasing him, ‘Conquering one desire is greater than fulfilling 100’.

For now, let me fulfill one of my desires to share another quiz with you all. The previous quiz received a wonderful response from the readers and few of them had asked me for another as well. So, here we go! It is a maths quiz on ‘Time’. Follow the link – https://quizizz.com/join/ and use the code 330667.

External links – 

  1. https://youtu.be/qH1HCYy1NTc
  2. https://youtu.be/E8lBXYbe7j8
  3. https://milaap.org/fundraisers/hial


Freedom from Homework

A child’s lament: Why can’t our teachers just teach us everything we need to know here at school? We are young and busy kids of the 21st century. Academics are fine but we have lot more to do like play, socialize, be physically active, keep up with technology, read and hinge ourselves to a hobby. In short, we don’t have time for homework and we really don’t like it. We need freedom!

Poor students! Yes, the children are the only people who live and understand what is going on in a classroom. Unfortunately, they are also the only ones most often blamed and least often heard. By now, you must be thinking that I am going to advocate for these students; let me remind you – I am a teacher 🙂

It’s time to look at homework from all perspectives. Why do we give homework if the students don’t like it and it’s no fun for the teachers too? It is an equal task for teachers to assign, check and grade them. So why do we have home assignments? As an educator, I think at some point or the other, we all attempt to answer it. Do share your opinion in the comment section. Now, allow me to share:

  1. Reinforcement – Homework reinforces the concepts taught in a classroom. The more you work with them, the more likely you are to actually learn them. Our school time tables are usually designed in a way that the students hardly get any time to reflect. One period after another. When students learn in the classroom, they are using their short-term or working memory. On leaving the classroom, the information in the working memory is replaced by the topic in the next class. In few minutes the entire set up is changed, every variable in the classroom gets a new value.  Have you met your student in a new setting, for example in a park or a mall? Do they respond in a similar way as they do in the classroom? Definitely NO; Even classmates behave differently inside and outside the school. But once we have a strong bond and meetings are regular, we see very less variation in the behavior. Gradually we become independent of the environment. Similarly, students must regularly interact with knowledge in the different environments. They need to access information in ways that are relevant to their world and they must practice their skills in different situations. Education researcher Professor John Hattie, who has ranked various influences on student learning and achievement, told the BBC in 2014 “The worst thing you can do with homework is give kids projects; the best thing you can do is reinforce something you’ve already learned.” And I want you to remember this “Homework is not a punishment, rather it is a reinforcement.”
  2. Parent’s involvement and habit formation–  Homework gives parents a chance to see what their children are learning in school. Most of the time, children only open their school bag when there is a homework. In such cases, homework becomes the only reason for parents to interact with their children concerning education. I have observed a pattern in the graph of parents involvement against the standard in which their children study. The slope is mostly negative and finally, in higher grades, the parents are completely off the track, they completely miss the bus. But if the teachers are consistent, the students form a habit.

    The graph has been used for representation purpose only. It is not an actual data.

    A good habit that can transform them into independent and life long learners. Over the period of time, students learn the hard lesson that some things in life come with no options; it has to be done. Even if one doesn’t wish to, one has to get married one day!

  3. Have the edge over – Homework encourages a learner to explore subjects more fully than classroom time permits. The acid test is seeing whether you truly understand the material and can do the work on your own. This is especially true with mathematics. When I solve problems of maths in the classroom, every student believes that s/he has understood the underlying concept and they will be able to solve more problems of that nature. But in reality, every student may not. They miss out on the ‘unseen’ steps. Homework, in such cases, help them to come out of their false belief and put them in real action. So whenever I assign a homework, I ask my students to do it themselves and if they are unable to do it, I accept the original and incorrect work. It helps me to modify my teaching strategy to facilitate better learning. It works just like the formative assessments. In science classes, homework is critically important. Students see concepts in a whole new light; most of the time, they are asked to write what they observe. Open ended questions light curiosity and motivate the learners to stretch their imagination. They come out with creative ideas and more follow up questions. And those extra minutes and hours logged at home help a learner to gain confidence in the subject.
  4. It’s fun too – Homework gives an excuse to a student to use gadgets, surf the internet, download and print resources. It helps your child learn to look out for resources and put them to use wisely. No child in my class is away from video games, nor am I. So we found an interesting way to engage ourselves. I design games for them and they play at home. So our new way of engaging with devices at home is through homework. I am very thankful to the creators of quizizz.com

I would strongly recommend you to create your own quiz on the platform. I can share one of my quizzes right away. Go to join.quizizz.com and use code 009534. Enjoy a 15 question quiz on basic addition and subtraction meant for my 5th graders. The code expires on 30th August, so hurry up!

In our next post, we would like to discuss more about homework. If you have any thing to share, please do comment. Thanks for your time and enjoy the videos:

The Science Express at Mumbai, India

Mumbai July 19, 2017

After a bit of delay in the opening ceremony, one could see the emerging strength of Mumbaikars on platform number 10 at the CST railway station. Science enthusiasts, curious children, educators and eager parents of school-going children were lined up to enter the science express. On the first day of the 3-day halt of the Science Express Climate Action Special (SECAS), it received an overwhelming response despite heavy rains in the city.


The polite, yet firm security guards with an enthusiastic team of volunteers made the atmosphere very joyful and friendly. Discipline and Scientific Tempers, both, were kept in check. Rahul, one of the volunteers from Tamil Nadu, shared his experience with SECAS right from the beginning of this year. The team of 30 plus volunteers with a mixed group of undergraduates, bachelors in science and Ph.D. holders: together take this express to different cities with full horse power.


Visitors with a bag full of patience stood in the queue for hours. The theme being on climate change, one could not feel the outside heat once they enter the fully air-conditioned train. The interior was colorful, bright and pleasant. It was a relief to finally step in the express.

A very positive start with the hope to save our planet whose temperature has gone up by 0.85 degrees Celcius from 1880 to 2012. The journey of initial 10 coaches started with a very informative display of the recent changes in our climate and concluded with various achievements in research on climate change by different government bodies. On the way, the visitors were not only given a bunch of information but also equipped with some really do-able action items. Right from using LED bulbs to keep the AC temperature at 25-degree Celcius, from using our rich culture of preserving food items to optimization of the natural resource for example by using public means of transportation and so on… were described in detail.  Oh, how can we not talk about the special coaches called Kids Zone and JOS (Joy Of Science) hands-on lab dedicated for students from grades 1 to 10? Earnest parents stood outside this special laboratory on wheels, waiting for their children to come out and share their experiences. The demonstrations ranged from optical illusion, chemistry, and miracles. It was truly awesome as the participants were given many take aways while they learned the concepts behind these fascinating activities. Small kids used modest balloons and straws to unfold the basic concepts in science. After all their standings, it ended with a smile and tons of learning. The express was truly expressive!


One takeaway for you from the science express:

“Let me guess your birthday now!”

Look at the below grid…, in which grid do you see your birth day?


Shhh… don’t tell me the number, just tell me the grids…I will do little maths!

Once I know the grid(s) that contain your birthday. I will secretly add the numbers from the 1st box of those grids. Yes, it is possible to have your birthdays in more than one grid. For example, your birthday is on 31st (Just like me!). Check all the grids, in this case, you can see 31 on every grid, so we shall add the numbers from the 1st box of every grid (i.e. 1 +2 + 4 + 8 +16) which is 31. You can even try it for your birth month. It’s very simple but it works 🙂

If you are still thinking to take your kids to the science express do take them. If you are worried of the rains and the long queues then better visit Nehru Science Centre. Which is open for you since 1985 at Worli.

Image Gallery – Fun with Newton

Fun with Newton

The images from the science workshop titled ‘Fun with Newton’ are ready to be shared. In three days, three hours each day students learned the three laws of motion through making; the learners created scribbling robots, designed the fastest ramp for their car and made movables using balloons. Each maker activity was associated with one law of motion. A detailed article is on its way…

35. Happy Ending

Till then enjoy the images by following the link:https://goo.gl/MZNdta

#Mathematics – Remedial Teaching as Concept Class

I believe we all would have seen this pattern, a high scoring student keeps scoring high throughout his/her school life. Similarly, we have also seen (actually ignored) students who have always been average or just passing. Very rarely we find someone disrupting this pattern.

Today, we see many schools having a remedial program for the below average students. A program mostly headed by a special educator; it is interesting to see it in action, isn’t it? Let me brief it – in a classroom, a student is marked as a slow learner by the homeroom or subject teacher. The student is sent to the special educator, who initially diagnose the student. The diagnosis is mostly dependent on the teacher’s inputs (Actually it should consist of students written material and analysis of thinking processes using oral interview techniques)*. Once confirmed, the student is asked to miss the regular classes and attend the remedial program designed by the special educator. The student is now away from the classmates, has no idea what is happening in the class, misses social interaction and is now labeled in a negative way. The school may take pride by hiring a special educator and running the program but who will get back the student on track?

The term remedial refers to correcting or improving deficient skills in a specific subject. It by no means categories students as slow learners or underachievers, but rather should be available for all students. For example, a high achiever can also struggle to understand a concept; unless taught differently he/she may continue to feel low. For a long time, I struggled with LCM and GCD.

The Idea of ‘Concept Class’

A good idea to structure a remedial program would be by categorizing mathematics according to its strands like numeration, computation, measurement, geometry and data handling. Each strand can be subcategorized as concepts and each concept can be diagnosed separately for an individual student.

Doing so will let us plot a graph of each student’s level of understanding on y-axis versus concepts taught on the x-axis.

Student vs concept

Looking at the graph, it is easier to say which student and concept need remedial teaching. I believe as maths teachers, we would enjoy plotting graphs and analyse them. Our simple strategy would be to identify students and without disturbing their classroom routine, we can ask their parents to enroll for a ‘concept class’.

Concept Class in Action:

In the past, the emphasis was on ‘getting the right answers’ whereas today emphasis must be on mathematical literacy. So asking the student to solve an easier or additional worksheet won’t help much. In the concept class, teachers would give concrete examples before proceeding to abstract concepts by way of simple and easy steps at a pace in line with the learning abilities of students. The teacher would devise different learning activities after identifying the different learner type (MI theory). It is more effective for teachers to adopt a series of relevant and simple teaching activities than assigning one long teaching activity since students may acquire the required knowledge and skills through diversified activities. Students with learning difficulties are less competent in understanding written language. Therefore, remedial teachers would give students short and clear instructions to avoid confusion.

With fewer students in the Concept Class, teachers can design interesting activities coupled with reward scheme to stimulate students’ interest. It is most important to help students overcome their learning difficulties so that they may gain a sense of achievement and recover their confidence and interest in learning. Obviously, a teacher would only focus on core learning aspects in-depth and application whereas materials in the advanced learning aspects may be streamlined or appropriately selected for teaching. The idea still remains the same ‘get the students back on track’.

Seat arrangements of students should be flexible to meet the specific teaching purposes of each learning activity. For example, teachers and students may form a circle when holding discussions; and the two students or group members involved may sit together during peer group or small group learning. Remedial teachers may have to explain to the parents about the characteristics and abilities of their children so that they may help their children to learn in a pleasurable manner.

Apart from teaching the concept in mathematics, a concept class should help students develop good learning habits and gain back the confidence in the subject, that in turn will help students to master basic self-learning skills and abilities.

P.S.* – Check ‘The Etiquette of Diagnosis’ (Janet K. Scheer, 1980)

Interesting posts every wednesday

July 2018
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